Twin Cities Roleplaying Association Message Board TCRA Main Forum › Why 4E isn't a Role-Playing system...

Why 4E isn't a Role-Playing system...

Troy S.
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 30
All I'm saying is 4E is not the system to choose if you focusing on a high RP campaign...My biggest arguments complaints with 4E in this regard is you have to design encounters around the system, meaning adventures have to follow the 3 to 5 encounters finishing with boss battle in order to really challenge the party.

I've play 4E since before it was officially released and even before PHB2 came out I was already fighting against the system, trying to role-play in the campaign. We tried to play just like we used to in previous editions, using modified modules, but it just didn't work.

Trying to role-play the journey was another disaster in 4E, as wondering encounters simply don't work...A full strength party can easily take out encounters 4 levels higher than them, especially if they get a full nights rest afterwards...So it quickly became apparent that you can't actually play the journey without coming out with your own system for lasting affects, or forcing them not to get an extended rest.

The other battle that I had was always having to manufacture reasons to "push" the party along to maintain a given challenge level. To chain lessor encounters together, into effectively a single encounter for purposes of 2nd wind and encounter powers, otherwise was simply no point to a room with a single goblin guard or the like, as the party is completely recovered by the start of the next battle (minus maybe a healing surge if the creature got a good hit before they died).

The above examples are what I mean when I say fighting against the system, but I think this next scenario also demonstrates my point that nearly any other rule set would work fine for, but 4E simply fails:

A lone guard awaits outside a door, where a group of others are inside. In previous versions you'd likely have the thief Sneak up, and take the guard out with a backstab, as the bonus damage done by this would be more than sufficient to take out a typical guard.

In 4E everything has so many HPs that typically for a Thief to do the 30hp required to kill the level 1 guard, they would need to sneak up and surprise to close the gap, win initiative and use a daily power, followed by an action token encounter power...and if any of these rolls were poor, then the result would be the rogue standing next to the guard that lives long enough to at least scream (silence being a completely unusable ritual), so all the guards come out an target the rogue and they die before the party gets into melee range.

So in 4E, you of course take the party up to the door and battle the guard and everyone inside, then "short rest" and all their wounds go away, then they go in...That's typically how the encounters are designed as well, their is typically no way to circumvent encounters in 4E (otherwise it violates the 3 encounters then boss fight mechanic).

In Pathfinder or previous editions their was logic that could be applied to skip entire regions of the dungeon, or at least hold them until after the boss was found and dealt with. In 4E the design is such that you really can't do this without significantly altering the adventure.

After 3 years of playing 4E, sure I had my own rules that "corrected" most of the issues I described above, but after redefining short rest, and extended rest, adding double-daily powers and other things, I don't think what we were playing would really be 4E.

All that said, Essentials did go a short way in correcting some of my beefs, but not all the way...And I think eventually they got better at defining a skill challenge, but trying to RP a skill challenge was tough, because once the party figured out what was going on, they would only attempt the skills they were likely to succeed at, so it required so finesse to slyly sneak it in.

I do rip it 4E apart as an RP system, but I do think it does a Ok job introducing people into the concept of role-playing games in a way that plays very much like a video game...But I think there process was about as backwards as possible...Drizzt board game should have come first, than essentials, and then the more complex classes in the PHB (1, 2 and 3).

This would have been a more easily transition for 3.5/Pathfinder players, plus I think in they would have expanded on the playing aid and cards that Drizzt and other similar board games had it would have improved the final 4E experience...rather than the way they did it.
Steve W.
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 72
I guess we'll have to (partly) agree to disagree. I do agree that 4e is not the best system for heavy role-playing (primarily because of how skills work (limited number, level becoming more important than stats/training, etc)). However, I disagree with most of your other points. I've played many sessions/modules (both home campaign and LFR modules) that don't follow the 3-4 encounters followed by boss fight and provide challenge. Yes, giving time for an extended rest can certainly change how following encounter(s) will play - it just needs to be taken into account (some LFR modules do while others take the lame/easy route and just say "no extended rest except <here>").

For your goblin guard example, if it's supposed to be relatively easy to take him out without sounding the alarm, he's a minion - otherwise, he's not a minion and is likely to sound the alarm.

Essentials made it simpler for new players but I personally can't stand most of the Essentials classes (except they do allow a few interesting builds you can't do with non-Essentials classes). Most of them have fewer choices leveling and boil down to "I use this stance (or duration power) and then basic attack until the end of the encounter" (which I mostly find boring).

4e is neither better nor worse than 3.5/PF. They are just quite different games with both having their strengths and weaknesses. After playing a lot of 4e, I find it hard to go back to 3.5 (less so PF) except that I really liked the 3.5 Eberron setting (4e Eberron is a very different feel).

Then again, D&D (any version) has never been my system of choice. Currently, for fantasy, I like Chronicles of Ramlar (sadly out-of-print), Metal, Magic & Lore (with significant new releases coming this summer), and just started getting into Arcanis (which I'm liking a lot so far except for the lack of options on how to build an arcane caster at character creation). For other genres, I prefer other game systems.
Troy S.
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 32
Agreeing to disagree is probably the way to go, but debating online is not the best forum either...But I still like the back-and-forth and reasons for why one works in one situation and not another.

I don't hate 4E, I actually think they started off with a pretty good design, but after a while 9,000 Powers and 3,000 Feats just seem a little much. I had to create a database that would pull in everything from Compendium every month, which was handy for encounter design and fast searching for specific items, such as maximizing a Lair Assault character.

When it came right down to it, I think my biggest complaints with 4E were the way they defined their Rests...In my campaign I altered this and it really "fixed" most of my issues with the game. Essentially turned encounter powers into Daily and Daily into Weekly...but then the same way you'd give out action points you could reward players with recharging encounter powers.

A short rest was 30 minutes, and extended rest was 48 hours (or a night in an Inn). This made it a conscious effort by the party to "stop and rest" rather than a hide for 5 minutes". Which in many cases if you could rest for 5 you could rest for 30, but just made the party think about it a little more.

This also allowed once a day encounters to be relevant as well, because you'd have to get to the next Inn to get your extended rest or, you'd have to seek a shelter that would either provide comfort and safety for a day or two, before health would be restored.

This then allowed for the 3 to 5 encounter adventures to be run essentially as the game was designed, but also allowed single goblin battles to be relevant, as you may get 10 of these 1 to 3 goblin events before you were safe enough to attempt a rest, and for adventures that were designed to run without an extended rest, the change in duration had no real effect.

I also added my own game crutch, the Mana Potion & Mana Elixir that would restore encounter and daily powers, respectively. So the players could buy or find these in cases where they would otherwise be reduced to running on at-will powers. Another crutch was a Elixir of Recovery rewarded players with healing surges (though no immediate healing benefits).

These I though fixed most of my issues, and then along with similar things that you've described above really made the 4E rules able to run nearly any type of traditional RP session.

The other major fix that I applied was adjusting creatures health and damage...I played 4E for three years at least twice a month, mostly 6 to 9 hour sessions, and it just seems encounters take too long, especially paragon...Revenge of the Giants had 2,500hp on the enemy side in some battles, which my shaman fought painfully through doing something in the range of d10+5 for the majority of.

This was just ridiculous, plus even 3xWeapon damage doesn't look very impressive when a creature has over 200hp, So the first 3 rounds the heroes use their encounter powers, and then you spend the next 5 to 10 (or more) rounds on At-Wills, which really takes the game back to 3.5, "I attack the Giant again", type of combat.

So, to keep things interesting I essentially gave monsters a x1.5 (at lower levels) and x2 at higher levels on their damage, and cut their HP to 75% at lower levels and 50% at higher levels. I found this was a great help in adding not only excitement to the game, but fast resolution, so we weren't trapped in battles that would take two or more hours.

I haven't played many of the other systems you mentioned, but this is I think, because I have a passion for "Fixing" broken I typically will give a system a chance for a campaign or two "As designed", but I start my "fixing" / house-ruling...which requires some play-testing and work...typically another couple campaigns...And being that I owned essentially everything (well, not quite) from every edition of D&D, in between editions, we'd play completely home grown systems.

I've been playing a lot more dice pool systems, which are making it tough to return to d20 based games, because I find the pool systems a lot more interesting...but because I play in groups where everyone likes something else, we do rotate through different systems, but when it's my turn to GM, I typically use this as a way to play-test the latest version of what I've been working on.

Though I wouldn't mind trying a d20 system with 2d10 added together...But agree, I somehow "Want" D&D to be the system that I played in my youth, but sadly my adult mind simply can't get over some of the issues. I agree that D&D may have been one of the first, but definitely others have done the mechanics much better.

I just haven't found the system that has the right amount of logic and simplicity for me, but even if I did, finding a whole group that it's the perfect system for might be another challenge. in the mean time, I'll be working on my own thing...Might have to look into Metal, Magic & Lore.

I think the best system I've played over the last year was the custom Skyrim PnP RPG that a guy at GenCon created. I've never played the electronic version, but it was based on the Hero d6 system (with a lot of nice simplicity)...Though I do think some of the fun might have been essentially the equivalent of 10th level guys in a 5th level dungeon...but the boss battle was level equivalent.
user 9895208
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 29
Sounds like to me you prefer combat as war as apposed to combat as sport.
Steve W.
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 73

On first glance, I have to say I really like your change to rests (and the added items for those times when the party/player really wants/needs to recover something). It makes the ham-fisted "you can't rest here/now" a thing of the past and allows for challenging encounters without loading them up to 3-4 levels above the group (assuming a home campaign with no reason the party can't take an extended rest).

I'm less sure on the hp/damage change. I agree that hp in Paragon (and likely Epic - haven't played there yet) is too high for a lot of monsters which causes combat to take a long time. The only down-side I see to upping damage to balance the lowered hp is it is more likely to outright kill characters. As an example, in the LFR game yesterday, one encounter had things hitting for somewhere between most characters surge and bloody value per hit - this was Paragon so 2x damage would have meant possibly killing outright any character hit that was bloody (not even necessarily near going down).
user 5636054
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 60
"Role-playing" is a deluted term at this point. When people are including solo adventure console games as RP experience then we have lowered the bar. Many players now are less about what their character will do in a situation and more about what cool/tricky/awesome skill it is that they can use. A lot of players like to min/max their stats without any real idea of why the character would have those skills. It's all about having the points and spending them. Over the years I have seen plenty of people want to play the "face" character of the group they are in, just as an example. Only to find out that the player has no aptitude for smooth talk in real life and therefore just defaults to "I want to roll to smooth talk this guy.". When the GM asks for the genereal direction of the chatter the player just says "I don't know. Can I just roll it?". To me, that's not RP. That's just applying stats. So if you look at it with that perspective I think many people would find 4E to be a perfectly acceptable "role-playing" system. Personally my enjoyment of a system is usually inversely proportional to the amount of tricks or feats available to the players.

Troy S.
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 33
@Steve, The damage modifier isn't as necessary at level 1 to 5, plus the MM3 and Essentials monsters have already received a damage boost, which make messing with the damage done at these level creatures less needing of a modification. I becomes more apparent at levels 5 to 10, and every five levels it seems to need an adjustment. My damage/HP adjustment was written up in these 5 level tiers, the previous post is addressing most the higher levels.

I choose to keep everything "behind the scenes" so the players just keep their same HP and deal the same damage, but then I've modifier the creatures HP, and every hit the creature does I do my mental adjustment before announcing to the players the damage that they have taken.

I did this because when I looked at our "play time" every encounter was taking 60 to 90 minutes, which was about 8 top 12 rounds, beginning rounds took longer (more creatures, and each side trying to gain the upper-hand, plus more exotic encounter powers typically get used early) at about 20 min/round, and later ones were down to about 10 min/round (as everyone settled into there at-wills).

I didn't want to remove encounters, but I wanted to get more RP time in, so my adjustments were for the sake of getting faster resolution. What is typically did was to allow the chance of players to "two-hit kill" enemies (so heroic encounter/daily powers with action tokens could drop non-elite opponents). The battles were reduced to 3 to 5 rounds...longer if the opponents "got the jump" on the party, as they spend more time 2nd winding or healing.

So an the same encounters were reduced to 30-45 minutes (about in half), which overall gave a more heroic and fast paced to the game. Aggressive players could team up and reduce opponents numbers in a single round, and it allowed for non-minion one-hit kills on occassion...I have to say, I've never been a fan of the idea of a minion (especially a large ogre with 1 hp, never made sense), so my minion types would have about 25%-30% of the HP as the other guys. So this lead to them definitely being in range for 1-hit kills, but the players would still have to roll decent to 1-hit them.

@Jeff, I totally agree...As a DM I think the "everyone roll" checks are waste of game time...with a party of 5 you can assume that someone is going to get a DC 15, and most of the time DC 20 or 25 will be hit in these types of "everyone roll" events, so I just assume I'm dealing with thorough "special forces" type of people and just give them the info that these rolls would nearly always grant anyway.

For DC 25+ I would normally require a check OR a good idea from a player, for example if the player suspect a secret door in the room, and its located under the bed, and one of them specifically asks, if there is a rug or any floor covering on the floor or trap doors on the floor, then "why" would I force a roll on this, like many DMs I DM I want them to progress the story, and they are trying to hear so that is behavior I want to reinforce. If I knee-jerk to "Make a perception roll" and they fail it, then we could waste 15 minutes making perception rolls around the room...I may make a roll for them behind the screen and even if I "nat-1" it, all I would do if increase the time it took to find the secret door, delivering something like "well, you look under the bed and something doesn't seem right, but your initial scan didn't yield anything, but after a few minutes to return for a second look and this time notice a well hidden latch."

I've seen players we've very intricate and convincing stories for NPC's only to be asked to "roll a diplomacy", which they promptly fail, and DM uses the dice roll as the determining factor...then some other player simply goes..."I'll try too.." and with no back story or direction grabs their dice and rolls a 18+ on the dice and the DM goes to them, "Well, you succeed and they tell you...".

I have to say, what type of actions are you trying to reward here? Do I want to still behind the screen having player simply say "I jump the pit, 23 Athletics...", or "I sneak up to the guard, 18 on my stealth...", or do I want them to interact with the environment, like..."Is their a narrow spot on the opening that would be the safest to leap across? I'll also look for a nice size stone block to give me firm step to leap from...I know I can't get the full running start from this vantage, but I'm going to try an push off the wall as I start my run as well...", or "As I watch the guard do I detect anything in routine that would give me an advantage? Are they always stationary or do they wander around in a set pattern, such that I could simply hide and wait for them to come to me?".

I my experience, the dice should be secondary to the story, so I normally first ask "So, what are you doing?", before I even ask the players to roll, and then based on their narration, I either give the the roll if a 10 would make it, or if they are particularly clever, I might even give them a 15 on the if the roll I gave them wouldn't allow them to succeed, then I just have them make a roll. Otherwise I assume they made it and continue with the story.

I also find most skill challenges as they are written or described to be rather lame, so these other take a lot of work to sometimes I'll just treat them as a story and read them as they party succeeded, or I'll just wing it and see if the party is attempt "logical" actions and play it by ear. I really can't stand the fully armored warrior with the crappy stealth, that continually tries to use athletics or some other skill that they have max'd out in place of their stealth, which they suck at...I'm sorry, but it simply is very hard/lucky to sneak up on someone in platemail.

If players want to "just roll it", I will allow it, but I do encourage them to join in the RP, by seeing other people automatically succeed by simply telling me what they are doing in a creative fashion.

To me, really ANY system can function in this environment (even 4E), but when the system prevents basic story telling or running the adventure in a certain way, without saying thing like "You can't take a short rest (or extended rest) now", without any apparent justification then I have a problem...If the DM and players are willing to bend the rules for the sake of fun/challenge than I agree that even 4E can work in an RP environment.
user 9715440
Hopkins, MN
Post #: 70
I currently run a 4E game and my players love it. At one point I was running 2 separate games back to back, each group loved the way I ran them. The biggest thing that you need to look at is the DM. I have run games that ran nothing but RP for weeks, and I have run combat encounters strung out over weeks for the party to get where they need to be. It all depends on how the DM runs it. If you have a character that has a GREAT back story and you think they will know something, well, instead of having them roll, ask them what they think their character knows. Or, have them roll but give them a situation bonus.

As for the guard at the door that needs to be killed, but it takes an entire party to do it, well, to that I have to say this. Minions. Minions are a DM's best friend. If the group has to kill the lone guard to get into the room, then place a minion at the door. If it's a royal guard or something like that, then yes I could see him having 30 hp.

Most games now a days that come out are like this. If you are having problems running a game like this, then you may need to sit back and review the story at hand. Gods know I have done this NUMEROUS times when building stories for my campaigns. I am currently working on trying to finish my world, build up the campaign more, and work on finishing the Character arcs that I have been slowly and quietly developing.

Now if you are a player in these types of games, then the same statement stands, except for your DM. 4E D&D was killed by the garbage of Wednesday night encounters and World wide game day. People view these as ONLY combat, and they are, there is NO Role Playing involved. Sadly many DMs run combat heavy games because this is what they think/feel the players want. What they need is for the players to speak up and tell them what they are looking for. At the end of every session I ask the players what they think of this session, what they liked, what was their favorite part, how I did, and what did they not like. I usually do this through email. Their replies will in no way harm their characters or them, it's better for me as a DM to get a better understanding of what my players like and what they are looking for in a game. A lot of times they enjoy my NPCs (and no, not just the female ones.)

I follow the golden rule that all DMs follow. Story trumps Rules. Plain and simple. If there is to be a lot of role playing then there will be, do I make them roll for everything? no, I we use them as a last resort. The players like the option to be able to roll, and in some situations I enjoy watching them squirm.You can look at the skills as a crutch, and in some instances when skill challenges are in play, they can seem to be. It is all in the eye of the God(s) aka the DM on HOW they want to run the game.

So as for 4E not being a Role-Playing system, I cannot agree with that at all. If your players are very combat heavy loving dungeon crawlers, well, that's what they want so give it to them. If you want them to kill a guard, well make it a minion, want them to role-play their character and talk to the NPC's, well, don't let them roll unless they HAVE to roll.

One tip I use, was given to me by my Uncle who has played since the original D&D came out.. Run a game YOU would like to play in. He hated 4E for the very reasons you explain here, I got him to join my game for a couple of sessions and he LOVED it. I look at it as it's all in the presentation. I try to make the stories for the campaign the type of game I would love to play in, and it seems to work. If a DM just sets up a dungeon and says "ok, so you are in this dark dungeon, where do you go?" then there wont be any call for actual Role-playing.

This is just my thoughts on the matter. Some people will like it, some people wont.. That is life.
user 5636054
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 61
Not to be a contrarian, but my advice to GM would be to NOT run a ssystem that you want to play in. If you want to play it, then play it. I have seen a lot of GMs run games they would love to have a character in that suddenly have an NPC dominating and overshadowing players. I say run a system you like with a genre where the story comes easy to you. If you like a particular world and the possibilities it provides then that is more likely (IMO) to have success than one where you think it would be great to play. GMs often have very different ideas of what they would want as a player from their actual players. If what you want to do with the game doesn't match what your players would like to see then you are destined for failure regardless of story or system. I am also against preplanned story arcs. I dislike modules in general other than a once in a while kind of adventure. I like a very open sandbox kind of feel where you can present the characters with a lot of options for the direction they would like to take. Sure, I have events and storylines happening but if the players choose to not be a part of those then so be it. But those events will unfold in the background and may or may not affect the players. There is nothing worse for me as a player when you are given one option and you are going that direction whether you like it or not because it's what the GM had prepared. If as a player I say "I can't see why my character would do that" and the GM responds with some reason to railroad me into a particular storyline then I have pretty much checked out as a player. KNow your players and their motivations. That is the key to success in my book.
Group Organizer
Amarillo, TX
Post #: 306
Since I haven't had a chance to read this entire thread, these comments apply primarily to the first post. In general, the rules of any roleplaying system, be it D&D (of any version), GURPS, WoD, etc., conflict to some extent with actual roleplay. It's always been rolls vs. roles. The more the rules become the focus, the less RP is actually needed. As such, in an ideal RP world, we would sit down at the table with nothing, no books, no character sheets, no minis... and simply become our characters. The game would take place solely in our collective imagination and we would all agree on what happens in perfect harmony.

However, in reality we often disagree about what happens, or what the effect is, or how powerful the PCs or the enemies should be, or we want to play a character that is smarter, wittier or wiser than ourselves and so we make up rules to make this possible. The rules are there to help out when the outcome is contested or uncertain and to assist us in playing characters that can do things we cannot. And this is the core purpose of RPG rules. The rules are not intended (or shouldn't be) to limit the creative of the players or the GM. As a game master, I sometime "throw out the rulebook", as it were, when the rules fail to live up to this yardstick. The player who is deep into his character and spouts a convince line of BS to the guard with an IQ of 8, but rolls a 2 on his persusion check, should not be penalized for a quirk of the dice.

I've seen many GMs that feel they must set an example for their players by strictly adhering to every rule (either that, or they lacked the creativity not to, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt). And that is a good policy, in general, but the one thing that I've seen over many systems over many years is that telling a compelling story need never be constrained by the rules. In particular, the GM need not feel that he must always obey every letter of every rule if doing so interferes with the story he is trying to tell. This is especially true of the things the players can't verify, like NPC stats.

To use the example of the lone guard from the first post, who says the guard has to have as many hit points as a normal enemy? He could (even within the rules of D&D 4e) be a minion (1 HP). In fact a minion would be a great alternative here, because they have normal defenses, and misses (even those that would normally do damage), never kill minions, so there is still the possibility of failure. But actually, that's not really my point. Even if the idea of minions did not exist in 4e, there is no reason why the GM has to feel that the guard in the aforementioned scenario must have 30 HP. Maybe give him 15 or 5 or 20, or whatever other number seems most suitable to give the thief a bit of a challenge, but still let him have his moment to shine or fail gloriously! Also, if the thief does fail, and the guard has time to shout a warning before he dies, who says the guards inside come running immediately? They might have been taking a sip of coffee, or need a moment to grab their weapons, or get a moment to get over the shock of hearing the guard's scream turn into a gurgle of blood, thus giving our hero a moment to escape.

I could go on and on with other examples, but I won't. At the end of the day, if you don't feel that a particular system suits you, then you're probably right. Pick a different system and move on. I'm not advocating for or against any particular system here, but I had some very enjoyable roleplaying experiences with 4e, but also with GURPS, WoD, and a dozen others. Generally RP is whatever you, as players and GMs, put into it. Let the rules be your guide, but never your fetters.

Vive la Roleplay!
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